RFID Technology Now Available for O&G Industry

The use of radio-frequency identification tags (RFIDs) has grown in recent years and across a wide range of industries, from use in asset tracking retail sales, transmitters for toll roads and public transit, tracking patients in hospitals to identification tags in animals.

RFID tags

RFID tags designed to withstand the environment in which oil and gas exploration and development takes place are now available. Libertyville, Ill.-based William Frick Co., founded in 1975 as a manufacturer of labels, decals, nameplates and signs, has expanded over the years to include SmartMark RFID products, FlexPost ground markers, AuthentiCal security labels and 3D formed nameplates.

Over the past two years, five oil and gas companies have successfully tested RFID tags manufactured by William Frick for the oil and gas industry. The Oil and Gas RFID Solution Group, a group founded nearly three years ago to promote the usage of RFID technology in the energy industry, named them their RFID tags of choice for harsh environments-the first time they've ever certified products for such an application.

The tags manufactured by Frick are a form of passive RFID and contain a silicon chip. The chip is like a tap with information recorded on it that lays dormant under it is read with an electromagnetic device. Frick Vice President Evie Bennett said the tags could improve the return on investment of oil and gas companies by allowing them to track and manage their equipment and personnel and have more efficient operations and preventing losses due to misplaced or stolen items.

The tags are useful in tracking expensive pieces of equipment such as drillbits, and are an evolution from the barcodes that have been utilized. The drawbacks of barcodes are that they typically have to be clean to be read. The tags tested by the oil and gas companies include a steel tag that can be welded on, and two tags made of tire rubber that are easy to attach but virtually indestructible. Some tags can be read from several meters away and beyond the line of sight of the reader, which is helpful when the tags are hard to reach.

The RFID tags can be utilized on an offshore drilling rig or a storage yard to track drillbits and other equipment such as sections of pipeline. The tags allow specific part needed to fit into a section of pipeline to be identified. They also were tested for use on underwater risers and pressure tested to survive at a number of different depths. "These tags have been knocked around, crushed but not destroyed and soaked in salt water," said John Poplawski, a technical expert with the company.

The challenge with RFID tags is that putting such a tag against a piece of metal or near liquid makes it difficult to read. "Part of the magic with the tags we're offering is that they actually work very well against metal and are very rugged, and are made out of the same material that piping and drilling are made from."

Frick is a privately funded company that started out manufacturing RFID tags for electric utilities substations and underground manholes and barcodes for water company and telephone company assets, so Frick understands the corrosive, tough environments in which oil and gas companies operate. Frick has worked with a partner to develop the RFID tags for use in the oil and gas industry.